Category Archives: fashion

Fashion and fun

Image result for diana pics

As I mulled over the ins and outs and ups and downs of buying a grey T-shirt – I’m short of cool T-shirts as my clothes are still packed up in my old school trunk, (few people know what these are nowadays) where they’ve been since we moved to the forest. We’re building onto the little cabin we inherited when we moved here, and I’m still, as it were, existing on the iron rations I put into a small suit case when we came here. Somehow I hadn’t envisaged managing without my extensive wardrobe for months.

There’s a word for Foodies like me – is there also one for clothes maniacs… clothies? If there is, that’s me. But my frivolous machinations ground to a halt when I stumbled on an article about the latest exhibition of Diana’s clothes.  Everyone knows who Diana is, don’t they? The ingenuous teenager who married her Prince, and discovered on their honeymoon that he was still in touch with his long- term married mistress? The anorexic skinny beauty who blossomed into a glorious woman, who wore heavenly clothes throughout the various stages of her life? She’d have been fifty-six  this year.

The exhibition seems to chronicle the trajectory of the Princess’s life, from the ingenue soft blouses and dresses worn by the young bride, through to some of the ravishing evening dresses she began wearing as she gained her confidence. Then come the dresses which showed off her figure and astonishing beauty… and with the clothes, all those photos showing her a step away from Prince Charles, with symbolic distance between them, as they arrived together with her wearing these beautiful clothes.

She found her confidence when she embarked on her affair with her riding instructor, Guards officer James Hewitt, the man who’s since earned the well-deserved name of ‘Love-rat’. He wrote several books, and made millions out of publishing her letters and detailing their affair, which began when a miserable Diana had discovered that Charles had re-newed his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles.

The legions of Diana’s admirers (I was one of them) were furious that, as the Guardian once put it: ‘an older woman with no dress sense and birds-nest hair had trounced the people’s fairy-tale Princess? Who did she think she was?’

The story goes that some of her infuriated supporters even pelted the hapless Camilla with bread rolls when she went shopping in her local Wiltshire supermarket. Which reminded me of a previous Charles and his mistress, the much more attractive Charles the second. His witty lover, Nell Gwyn, was subjected to much the same abuse, only verbal as her carriage passed. The angry citizens thought this was the carriage of Charles’ French Catholic mistress. Nell pulled down her carriage window, and smiling at the hostile faces confronting her, uttered the immortal words: “Good people, I am the Protestant whore.” Which dispersed the crowds.

There’s no record of Camilla’s reaction to the bread rolls – in fact, throughout the years, she always remained silent.

But back to our muttons–or moutons in French. The dresses chart Diana’s life, but don’t, I think, include the famous little black dress she wore the night Charles admitted adultery on television. The tall, slim ravishing blonde with legs to die for, stole his thunder effortlessly in the sensational black dress, which she had had in her wardrobe for two years and never worn before.

All her dresses had built-in bras, so no bra straps showing – and they were also designed so there was never the dreaded ‘visible panty line (VPL). Disappointingly to me, the red jacket and purple skirt she wore when sitting in front of the Taj Mahal, alone and making a statement, is not in the exhibition. Red and purple – who else would wear such a brilliant combination?

That was one of the things I missed after Diana’s tragic and devastating death, the fun of filling my eyes with her gorgeous outfits. And then the jewels –  costume brooches worn in unexpected places, dancing with a priceless emerald necklace turned into an American Indian type head-band worn across her forehead, faux pearls slung backwards and knotted over a plunging backless velvet dress…

Diana’s successor, the ex- Kate Middleton, or Katherine as she is known to her family, often seems a careful, rather dull dresser, except on grand occasions when she looks wonderful.  So I’ve become an afficionado of other less well known royals on the world stage, though apparently doted on in their own countries.

The most flamboyant is Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, former business woman and daughter of a minister in one of  Argentina’s murderous and tyrannical regimes. She overcame this hurdle to marrying the heir to the Dutch throne, and has now evolved an interesting style of dressing. I marvel at her huge hats, ponchos, and daring colour combinations.

The Belgian Queen Mathilde, born a noblewoman in Belgium and formerly speech therapist and psychologist, is another blonde beauty with a great sense of style, and great legs too. She wears bright colours and elegant matching hats… the Royal way of dressing Queen Elizabeth has pioneered and perfected. Queen Letizia, the ex-television anchor and newsreader on Spanish TV, who also captured a Crown Prince, has a severe, solemn beauty. Her exquisite clothes have the same rather austere, elegant quality, but I don’t feel the joyfulness of Diana’s style – which for me was the benchmark of fun and fashion.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, the former Australian PR consultant, who spent three years learning Danish before marrying her Prince, is an attractive brunette like Kate, and they look like sisters when seen together. She always looks stylish, poised, and wears interesting clothes. But somehow with all these lovely Royals, there’s none of the excitement and joie de vivre that Diana projected in her gorgeous clothes. Queen Maxima comes the nearest to projecting that excitement while doing her round of good works and international visits like all the rest of them – shaking hands with popes, presidents, sovereigns and sheiks.

Needless to say, all these women sport magnificent jewels and glittering tiaras when required. I doubt that the latest fashionista to loom on our horizon owns a tiara – but then again – her extraordinary husband may have bought one to demonstrate that he can mix it with the best of them! If so, it’s hidden away at the back of a wardrobe in Trump Tower – or more likely stashed away at the bank.

When Melania Trump appeared at her husband’s inauguration in that delicious, pale blue outfit, I thought, aha, another glorious clothes horse in the mould of a previous beautiful First Lady. But we see so very little of her. When we do, her clothes are gorgeous… yet there’s so much controversy swirling around her, that rather like Carla Bruni, President Zarkozy’s beautiful model wife, it’s hard to enjoy the spectacle whole-heartedly.

‘The apparel oft proclaims the man,’ Polonius advised his son Laertes, and like everything in Shakespeare’s famous speech, it still rings true. So how does my grey T-shirt stand up to all these gorgeous outfits worn by glamorous women?

I want to wear it with grey trousers brought from Marks and Sparks in Plymouth, Devon, over ten years ago when flares had come back briefly, and with flat, grey lace-ups which assist my broken leg to walk – a special offer from a mail order catalogue – two pairs for fifteen dollars – how could I go past them? I’ll wear a grey, black and red scarf to brighten up the grey – I’ve had it for twenty years – it was a Christmas present from a Dutch friend who told me she’d found it on a second- hand stall at the local market. And of course – red dangly earrings – all so appropriate in a remote forest far from the fashion centres of the world. But as you can see, I never give up!!!

Food for threadbare gourmets

Caught on the hop when invited to an impromptu lunch tomorrow by a bachelor neighbour. Can I bring something I foolishly asked? Yes, something sweet, was the prompt reply. We don’t want to go into town to shop for another few days and I haven’t bothered to keep all my stocks of goodies since we are staying of sweet stuff, and I only cook the barest minimum since my game leg finds it hard to stand.

I finally remembered my emergency store –  tiny pastry tartlets in a sealed pack, and lemon curd in the fridge. I usually serve them with crème fraiche, and am leary of whipped cream separating. So will just have to bite the bullet and whip the cream with icing sugar which helps it to stay stiff. I simply use two tablespoons to a cup of cream… so much for giving up sugar!

Food for thought

Lift up the self by the Self.

And don’t let the self droop down

For the Self is the self’s only friend

And the self is the Self’s only foe.

Bhagavad Gita   Chapter 6, verse  5

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Rubbing shoulders with the rich, the famous, and the forgotten

I wish I could remember what Dr Seuss said when I was interviewing him back in the late sixties. (I’ve never kept clippings of my articles, which I sometimes regret)

All I can remember at this distance is his shining energy, his charm, good looks, good humour and integrity. I know we talked about his books – my children were young fans of four and five at the time – and how this childless man tried to give a subliminal positive message in many of his stories, like: “trust yourself”, or “be kind to everyone”.

Then there was the other doctor – Doctor Spock. At a moment’s notice, I was sent out to interview him, along with the newspaper’s star writer … the editor suddenly had a brainstorm and thought he’d like a different angle from a practising mother! No time to do any research. And now, how I wish, thanks to Google, that I had – he was so much more than his famous child-rearing book, a radical and protester at the time of the Vietnam War amongst other things.

When I had finished my probably rather pallid interview, Dr Spock’s gentle, lady-like wife took me aside, and asked me to interview her, to my amazement. I did, and listened to a hurt, angry woman, who said that her husband’s great reputation was based on her hard work bringing up their sons practically alone, while he picked her brains and dispensed her wisdom/experience from behind his desk. I couldn’t write this, and wasn’t surprised when they divorced a few years later.

Then there was the inimitable Barbara Cartland, who took me to her bosom when I told her that one of my best friends, John, was her son’s best friend, who she was devoted to. Her son and John had been at Harrow together, and when John married she lent him a cottage at the bottom of her garden. (with no plumbing)

As she roamed around her hotel bedroom talking animatedly, I decided that her crusade about honey and vitamins must work, she was so lithe and her movements so youthful at seventy-four. She was still writing prolifically her romantic novels, which she told me laughingly had their biggest sales in India.

When she died at ninety-nine, she had had over seven hundred bodice-rippers published, and left the manuscripts of a hundred and fifty more, which her sons are releasing as e-books every month. She wasn’t just a one trick pony though, one of her interests being gliding, and back in the early thirties she invented the idea of them being towed for long distances which led to troop carrying gliders. Later she was awarded a medal by the flying industry.

When her daughter, Lady Dartmouth – not yet married to Lord Spencer and so becoming Princess Diana’s stepmother – came to Hongkong, she was just as kind to me as her mother had been. She was a ravishing beauty with the kind of porcelain pink and white complexion and huge blue eyes that actress Valerie Hobson also had. (both utterly charming and beautifully mannered)

My interview with Raine, Lady Dartmouth, (known as ‘acid -rain’ by Diana and her siblings) was not as predictable as many others.  I had some juicy material to work with, like her famous scene at Heathrow airport over dirty tea-cups in the restaurant, her campaign to save Covent Garden, at twenty three being the youngest County Councillor for Westminster, and becoming a member of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. A life less ordinary than the traditional fashionable life with ladies who lunch.

Iris Murdoch, famous author, was another interesting person to interview. I did so where she was staying and met her donnish husband – played so beautifully in the film ‘Iris’, by Jim Broadbent –  after she had died of Altzheimers.  Being young and crass, I wondered how such a plain woman could have found such a devoted husband, and only later discovered that not only she did have lovers male and female, but that her fierce intelligence was as sexy as a pretty face!

It was with great trepidation that I approached Robert Helpmann, the famous ballet dancer, producer, and great talent. I had been terrified by him in the famous film: ‘Tales of Hoffman’ as a child, and could never get his Mephistophelian power out of my mind as he flicked his long, black velvet cloak with its long tassel out of the door… even the tassel seemed to convey malice.

With no Google in 1969, I had no idea that he had started his career in the legendary Anna Pavlova’s company, but at least I knew that in the ballet world he had an enormous reputation. He was a delight –  elegant, kind and charming –  and even gave me advice about my ballet-mad daughter… don’t let her start until she’s at least eight, and no en point until after fourteen.

So many fascinating people … from princesses to prime ministers … feminists and activists. Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin, appalled that I was a single mother. “How do you manage? ” she asked… presumably because as well as no husband, I had no chauffeur, nanny, cook, housemaid, butler, or gardener!  She was exquisite and elegant in a pale lavender suede coat and matching lavender wide brimmed hat… the Maori Queen, a plain, ordinary woman who grew into a beautiful, wise one; a glamorous, blonde Italian round-the-world yachtswoman, a Polynesian prime minister’s wife; a glorious Indian woman with yard-long black hair that hung loose, vivacious and intelligent, her greatest claim to fame being lover of racing driver Stirling Moss – then a household name – now, like so many of these people – forgotten.

And yet, of all the people I met and interviewed, the one I treasure most is another forgotten name now, even by the organisation he helped to found. On a cold, wet Sunday afternoon in June 1972, I went down to Westhaven marina in Auckland, at the request of Quaker friends.

Leaving the children in the car with snacks and books, I threaded my way along the gang-planks to the 38 foot yacht, Vega. On it, I met David McTaggart, one of the founders of Greenpeace, just setting off on his historic journey to Mururoa to protest against the French atomic tests. He was in a great hurry, loading last minute supplies before setting sail, but we did it, and I gloat that that was one of the first stories about Greenpeace to get into print.

McTaggart was a hero… in spite of their unwanted presence and refusal to be bullied away, the French set off the deadly bomb anyway. The following year when he returned, they beat him so savagely that he lost the sight in one eye for several months. That story went around the world. And yet these days when I am approached outside the supermarkets by eager young enthusiasts to get me to sign up for Greenpeace, they’ve never even heard of David McTaggart.

Meeting such people was one of the special privileges of being a journalist, but so often, as a single mother I didn’t make the most of such opportunities, being too pre-occupied with how to make ends meet, or if the amah would remember to meet my tiny daughter from the school bus. These were not celebrities in today’s use of the word, but people of character and substance who had carved a niche for themselves, and by their talent or originality become well known.

I look back to my young, ignorant self and cringe. If only I had known then what I know now. And I also look back and see these people so differently… I understand more about them as I understand more about myself. If only I had had the ability then to really do them justice. This feels familiar – of course – it’s what most parents say about their parenting – if only I had known then what I know now!

Greater understanding, insight, knowledge – even wisdom – are  gifts we acquire if we’re lucky, as we grow older. Yet it’s when we’re young that we have to step up, and so often blunder blindly into the unknown, sometimes realising fearfully that we don’t know, or often, thinking we know better.

So now, new generations and bright young people are setting off on their own journeys to follow their own dreams, and they will find their own heroes – talented innovators, creators and explorers in their brave new world. Some of their heroes will become rich, some will become famous, and many of them will inevitably be forgotten … and like the heroes of my day – in the words of Ecclesiasticus – they too will have no memorial.

Food for threadbare gourmets

An unexpected gathering of the neighbours for drinks the next day, and no time to do a dash into town, half an hour away, to find something to take with me. Remembering an intriguing recipe for sardines I’d used years ago, I rummaged in my store cupboard and found two tins of sardines in olive oil, and then rummaging on the internet for a recipe for sardine pate spread, I found a blog by someone called Manami. I’m grateful to her for digging me out of my hole.

Picking out the little silver bits and bones, I drained the sardines and mashed them up with two tablespoons of mayonnaise, two teaspoons of finely chopped onion, quarter of a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon of black pepper.

Apart from sprinkling it with chopped parsley, that was all there was to it. Served with small cracker biscuits – I used rice crackers, they filled a need.

Food for thought

The Highest Thought is always that thought which contains joy. The Clearest Words are those words which contain truth. The Grandest Feeling is that feeling you call love.

Joy, truth, love.

These three are interchangeable, and one always leads to the other. It matters not in which order they are placed.

Neale Donald Walsche. Conversations with God Book I

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The Royals, the truth, and The Crown Part 2

She does a marvellous job conveying the goodness, sincerity and intelligence of the Queen, but Claire Foy’s performance misses one thing – the Queen’s sparkling wit and flashing smile which lights up her whole face.

I was lucky enough to experience this wit and its quickness, and that wonderful smile at a reception on board her royal yacht Britannia. It’s an accepted convention not to repeat the conversations had with Royalty, one often ignored nowadays, so I won’t repeat my conversation with the Queen, any more than I will repeat the fun and intelligent talk I enjoyed with the Duke. Even at fifty he was still the good looking, charming man who married his princess, and quite unlike the charmless, bad-mannered person he was portrayed as in The Crown.

Since the series opens with their wedding I’ll go back there too, when Philip, who only had his navy pay to live on at that point, had enough innate self- esteem to be married in his old well-worn navy uniform, rather than borrow or cheat on rationed clothing coupons for the sake of looking smart for the in-laws, courtiers or anyone else.

The muttered conversation between Queen Mary and the Queen Mother denigrating Philip and his background could only have been a figment of the writer’s imagination, since Philip was far more royal than the then Princess Elizabeth. His pedigree goes back to the Tsars of Russia on one side (Nicolas II and the Tsarina attended his parent’s wedding in 1905 – the last big Royal wedding) plus a more direct line of inheritance from Queen Victoria than Elizabeth.

Of the two Queens who were supposedly bemoaning his background, Elizabeth’s mother was an aristocrat with no royal blood, and Queen Mary had been born a Serene Royal Highness, since her Hungarian father was not royal, though her mother, known as ‘Fat Mary’ (she was enormous, and no-one wanted to marry her until Francis of Teck was winkled out of Hungary) was George III’s grand-daughter.

Just as inaccurate were Churchill’s muttered remarks about Philip’s sisters being ‘prominent Nazis’ … One sister had been killed in an air accident that claimed her whole family in 1937, and a teenage Philip had walked to their funeral as he later walked with his grandsons at Diana’s funeral. Another sister’s husband had been a Nazi from the beginning, since like many others he thought Hitler would protect them from the Bolshevism which had assassinated their close Russian relatives – the Tsarina was his aunt.

But as time went on the relationships with Hitler and the Nazis foundered, this sister’s husband was killed in a mysterious air accident, while his brother was imprisoned in the concentration camp at Dachau, and his wife, Princess Mafalda had died in Flossenberg, another notorious concentration camp.

Liberal Prince Max of Baden – married to another sister – had funded Dr Hahn into his progressive Salem School. He lay low after the Nazis closed the school and Hahn escaped to Switzerland, and thence to Scotland via England. There Hahn had founded Prince Philip’s old school Gordonstoun. So that’s all the sisters and their husbands accounted for, and so much for that imaginary throwaway remark.

The apparently reluctant ennobling of Philip by the King was also very unlikely… the Royal family had known Philip even before he  was a frequent visitor to Windsor on his navy leaves, during the war. He always remained his own man, and when required to wear a kilt at Balmoral like all the royal family, curtsied to the King when he met him, causing great laughter all round.

As the years went by (with none of the marital aggro constantly featured  in the Crown) – no affairs – as Philip once famously responded to a reporter questioning him: “Good God, woman,” he thundered at her, “have you ever stopped to think that for the past 40 years I have never moved anywhere without a policeman accompanying me? So how the hell could I get away with anything like that?”

Pat Kirkwood, who had spent a night dining and dancing with Philip and her current boyfriend, the photographer called Baron, who’d brought Philip along with them, used to say that that one night in Philip’s company had ruined her whole life and even robbed her of a medal in the honours list. But as Philip wrote to her when she wanted him to issue a denial about a supposed affair, “Short of starting libel proceedings there is absolutely nothing to be done. Invasion of privacy, invention and false quotations are the bane of our existence”.

It’s true Philip was deeply hurt by the establishment opposition to his name, but his marriage remained the love match that it still is after seventy years. Staff tell of a younger Philip chasing Elizabeth up the stairs pinching her bottom, and her laughing and protesting before they disappeared into their bedroom.

Andrew Duncan, in his book ‘The Reality of the Monarchy’, tells of a fracas at a Brazilian reception, where he watched the Queen look miserably at Philip as he tried to restore order. ‘He smiled, touched her arm, and she relaxed, smiling nervously back, a tender look of tragic implications… theirs was a relationship… scrutinised everywhere, derided by critics, devalued by schmaltz’…  Andrew Duncan saw this ’non-public smile’ and wrote he was  reminded that ’this was a genuine love story and love match.’

Philip had resolved to support his wife while finding his own niche, which would lead in the following decades to the active patronage of more than 800 different charities embracing sports, youth, wildlife conservation, education, and environmental causes.

Within the family, Philip also took over management of all the royal estates, to “save her a lot of time,” he said. But even more significantly, as Prince Charles’s official biographer Jonathan Dimbleby wrote in 1994, the Queen “would submit entirely to the father’s will” in decisions concerning their children, so Philip became the ultimate domestic arbiter in their family.

Another biographer has described Philip’s caring fathering. He was recorded for example, saying amongst many other useful parenting tips, that one should never immediately say no to anything children want to do, but to think it over, and if eventually you have to say no they will accept it more easily … for contrary to popular belief he was not an authoritarian father.

In ‘The Crown’  when the couple were in Kenya before her accession, much was made of the Princess claiming  that she knew all about cars as she’d trained on them in the army. This is a well-honed legend, which doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. I was in the army too, and know how such things work.

For six months the Princess was chauffeured to an ATS  (Auxiliary Territorial  Service) detachment near Windsor every day and collected to return to the castle in the late afternoon. In her well pressed uniform or clean fresh dungarees cleaned and ironed by a maid, she joined carefully screened army personnel like Mary Churchill, the Prime Minister’s daughter, but she never lived in an army unit, got close to ordinary soldiers, polished her own shoes, or actually experienced army life.

In those moments in Kenya when she became Queen, I wondered where were the staff – Lady Pamela Mountbatten, lady in waiting, Mike Parker, Philip’s aide, Ruby MacDonald, the Queen’s dresser, Martin Charteris, private secretary, the housekeeper, maids, butler, waiters and so on?  I blenched at the incredibly dowdy mac and chiffon scarf Claire Foy was decked out in on her way to the airport having just become Queen, looking like a fifties suburban housewife going shopping.

The Queen had a full bosom, a tiny waist and elegant legs, and she wore dresses that displayed them to advantage. She would have died of heat wearing that tatty mac in Kenya. Neither did she wear all those dowdy blouses and cardigans. Only at Balmoral did she wear tailored shirts with kilts and cardy, though in her young days she was photographed playing with Prince Charles and Princess Anne wearing an elegant suit with nipped-in waist.

And I felt for the ghost of Sir Anthony Eden, played by a grim faced Jeremy Northam. Eden,  the famously handsome, charming, well dressed foreign secretary, was sporting  in-appropriate town clothes when in-appropriately barging into the King’s shooting party. After a life-time as a tactful diplomat, he’d never have worn the wrong clothes or turned up at the wrong moment!

And with all this whimpering about the series, I loved it for the beautiful interiors photographed in stately homes, lovely furniture, fabrics, scenery, and play of character… though the history was rickety, the drama was fascinating. But as one of the commenters in my last blog said so cogently: ‘If characters are not strong enough to stand on their own history as the stuff of narrative, then find other subjects. If they are, then why not stick to the facts?’

Thank you for those words, good friend at https://colonialist.wordpress.com/

I’ll round off this series next week when I can’t resist covering Princess Margaret’s shenanigans…  pity the producers didn’t use that wonderful line from the inimitable Sir Alan Lascelles, who, when Townsend told him he was going to marry the Princess, replied using that famous phrase about the poet Byron: ‘Are you mad, or bad?”

Food for threadbare gourmets

I had enough pasta for two left over from supper with friends, but instead of preserving it in cold water a la advice from those who know, I mixed it with enough olive oil to stop the lasagne from sticking, and it was much tastier than if it had had a cold bath.

For a quick lunch the next day I sauted an onion in good olive oil, and when soft added a tin of Italian tomatoes, plenty of garlic, a squish of balsamic vinegar and sweet stevia powder to taste, to give it that tangy and sweet flavour. Salt and freshly ground black pepper of course.  When it had all bubbled up, and become a nice thick mixture, I sprinkled lots of grated cheese over the lasagne in a casserole, poured the tomato mix over it, and then tipped plenty more cheese on top of that.

Three minutes in the microwave, cheese melted, and lunch was hot and ready to eat…. with a glass of the Riesling from last night too…..

Food for thought

To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven… a time to keep silence and a time to speak. Ecclesiastes III verses 1 and 7

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Behind every great….

100_0087‘Behind every great man stands a great woman’, one of my dearest friends declared, a propos Winston Churchill and the love of his life, his wife Clementine, and of Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor. We were lunching at the latest fashionable eatery for ladies who lunch, and I rather lowered the tone by quipping that behind every great man is a woman with nothing to wear!

As I sort through years of accumulation in this house, ready to take my next steps forward, I thought of this conversation, and thought of a much ignored and rather valiant woman who stood behind a great man. Her influence over a hundred years later is behind the room I sit in.

I looked around at this white room, white walls and cream curtains, white French furniture and if not white, then painted white and distressed by me, the guts of the rooms being created by the richness of books, and the colour of china. Only three pieces of furniture are the exception to the reigning white – the pine dresser in the dining area, and the antique round Dutch rosewood table laden with piles of books, and a battered old French bench painted in soft grey and cream.

After years of blue rooms, red rooms and yellow rooms this pale restful room is how I want to live these days. Syrie Maugham, Somerset Maugham’s ex-wife, is usually credited with inventing all-white rooms in the thirties. She bleached and pickled and painted furniture and floors, had carpets specially woven in white, and white on white became all the rage.

But the first white rooms in interior decorative history were Mrs Oscar Wilde’s drawing room and dining room in Tite Street, Chelsea.

The poet W. B Yeats described: ” a white drawing room… with white panels, and a dining room all white, chairs, walls, mantel-pieces, carpets…” The Wildes were leaders of fashion, and the much under-rated Constance Wilde edited the Rational Dress Society’s Gazette, often detailing accidents which had befallen women owing to the restrictions or impracticality of their dress.

Her white dining room may have been impractical, but she was an unusual Victorian parent who allowed her two sons to romp and play in its pristine whiteness – and they also scandalised some – as their unconventional mother allowed them to do this naked.

Though not as talented as the wickedly brilliant Oscar, (arriving in America and being asked what he had to declare, he replied, ‘Nothing but my genius!’) she more than held her own, collaborating with him in many of his projects, writing books for children, as well as writing in, and editing her magazine, while creating the artistic and aesthetic environment which had such an influence on their circle and their times.

Constance was also interested in the spiritual life, and became involved with the famous metaphysical and mystical society The Order of The Golden Dawn, where amongst others, well known personalities like WB Yeats, Maud Gonne, famous mystic Evelyn Underhill and even wicked Aleister Crowley before his fall, used to meet.

After the difficult birth of their second son the Wilde’s sexual relationship dwindled, and it was then that Oscar became involved with the love life (what his lover famously described as ‘the love that dare not speak its name ‘) that ended his career and the happiness of them all.

It’s only recently that it’s been understood that the mysterious and crippling illness which blighted Constance’s life, and probably their marriage in the five years before Oscar’s downfall, was the onset of multiple scelerosis. It was a condition which had only been recognised a few years before, and which Constance’s doctors were obviously not aware of.

This too, must have made a huge difference to the quality of the Wilde’s marriage, though they both obviously loved each other. Constance continued to support Oscar’s achievements after his disgrace and was the first to praise the poignant ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’. But his inability to keep at a distance the beautiful but destructive and heartless “Bosie” Douglas, the other half in the scandal, finally drove husband and wife apart.

Constance took her two boys to Italy to escape the scandal, and died there a couple of years later from the dangerous quack treatment she sought for her increasingly debilitating illness.

There’s been much sympathy and rightly so, for Oscar Wilde and his trials and tragedy, but Constance is often the forgotten one in this tribulation which affected them all. Not only does a fine woman stand behind most great men, but behind every disgraced man stands a humiliated and heartbroken wife…

Since I learned her story many years ago, Constance Wilde has always had a place in my heart… I can never resist women who make the best of things, however bad the things … and as Eleanor Roosevelt so memorably said: “A woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”

Food for threadbare gourmets
After my grandsons had been for lunch and I had made gallons – as it were – of chocolate sauce, I wondered what to do with all the sauce left over. Luckily I had a friend for supper a few days later, and decided to put the chocolate sauce to good use.

I gently stewed some peeled and cored pears in hot water with maple syrup, ginger wine, a few cloves, star anise and a bay leaf added. When soft I left them to steep in this juice, and later, boiled it away until it was thick and syrupy.

Served with whipped cream, re-heated chocolate sauce, and a little shortbread biscuit, it was wickedly delicious to one who has renounced sugar!

Food for thought

There is that which has always been there,
Which has never left your side,
Which has always been present,
Whatever the feeling, the circumstance.
When you turn your attention to trusting that,
You surrender to yourself.
Anon

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Ordeal by wardrobe

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There will not be many people wearing soft fuchsia coloured leather gloves in the North Island of New Zealand this winter, but I will be one of them.

They were a gift from my daughter last Christmas. She brought forward the present giving ceremony, and insisted that I open my presents first before anyone else opened theirs, because she wanted to see the look on my face when I saw them. She’d brought them back from London months before. I hoped my face showed everything she hoped when I unwrapped them. I can’t put them away. They sit on my dressing table – a symbol – of many things.

But her solicitude for my wardrobe doesn’t stop at leather gloves. This weekend she pounced, and said that the following day we were going to go through my clothes, and I was going to sort everything into keep, store and throw away! I had a friend who had also undergone this ordeal by wardrobe, when her daughters dismissed all her lovely clothes as ‘tragic,” so I knew what I was in for.

I had to agree that something had to be done, as I was always losing things in the muddle of too many hangars on the rail. As the morning wore away, it got easier and easier to let go.

“You’ve got too many white T-shirts.” was the first pronouncement. “There are five days in the week, how many do you think you can wear?” Resisting the temptation to correct her arithmetic I feebly tried to think why I would want more than a dozen white T-shirts, but nothing came to mind…

“No more brown, or dull sludgy colours” was the next diktat. “They don’t suit you. You need bright clear colours.” No arguing with the considered opinion of an expert… so out went two thirds of my wardrobe.

I tried to salvage a few comfortable jumpers and slide them into the store –and- second- thoughts pile. “No,” said the arbiter  – “how long is it since you bought that? – fifteen years?  – Well it may have looked nice then, but it’s hopelessly out of date now – anyway, it’s got moth holes”…

No, that’s worn, no, that’s got pilling, no, that’s the wrong colour … gradually the wardrobe emptied, and the to-keep pile was pitifully small. The throw- out pile (for the womens’ refuge) was huge.

“No, you have to give up labels”, she pronounced. “But I always cut mine out,” I protested… “Yes, but look – you just said ‘but that’s a Jaeger, ‘when I tried to throw away that jumper.”

“Okay, I get it”, I sighed. “I can’t believe you’d have bought this,” she exclaimed, holding up a black and gold embroidered evening coat.” “No, I can’t either,” I agreed, “so I’ve never worn it”. “Right, Trademe”, she said. “Anything with tags you haven’t worn we can sell and just think, even if you only get five dollars each for all this stuff you’ve never worn, it’s all money towards a new wardrobe!”

By now she’d found various un-worn shirts I had had made that had never worked.“I hope by the time I’m your age, I’m not making these sort of mistakes,” she muttered…“What are these?” she cried, holding up a pair of well tailored tartan pyjamas beautifully piped in red. “What on earth have you got these for? How long have you had them?”

“Exactly nineteen years,” I replied truthfully. “I saw a picture in a magazine of a model wearing pyjamas like these, cuddled up in front of a log fire with a cup of hot chocolate, looking so cosy and glamorous.” She looked at me disbelievingly. “Have you ever worn them, have you ever done that?”“Not yet”, I admitted, “but I might.” She opened her mouth to say something withering, but then took pity on me –“OK, you can have your dreams,” she said, and dropped the pyjamas on the to-keep pile.

By now we had descended into the bottom of the wardrobe to the shoe department. While I sat on a small stool scrabbling around in the darkness, she took the opportunity to tweet her friends. “Sorting my mum’s wardrobe” went the message – “keep, store and throw.” Back came a flutter of twitters from people who obviously had time on their hands that morning. The opinion seemed to be unanimous – too hard basket for them… I thought to myself, now at least one third of Auckland knows I’m throwing away my clothes.

There had been a time when my daughter needed a whole cupboard for her shoe fetish, but no more, it seems. “If I buy a new pair, I gash another pair,” she lectured me… so out went shabby oldies,  Moroccan slippers, shoes that pinched, boots that had the wrong sort of heel… the good news was that I found a pair of beautiful black suede indoor shoes that I’d never even worn and had lost about seven years ago. Needless to say a whole harvest of handbags was dissipated. “But you know I’m a bag lady,” I whimpered….

At the end she shook her head in a tolerant and kindly way.  ”I’m proud of you, I never thought you’d do it so quickly and easily – now don’t you feel better?” she coaxed…” A lot lighter?”  “Definitely a lot lighter”, I answered, looking at the giant pile destined for the womens’ refuge… a smaller pile that I could have second thoughts about and store, and then the  emasculated line of shirts and skirts, trousers and jackets hanging on the rail.

But as I looked, I had to admit she was right. She’d even hung them so I could see what to wear with what. Best of all, I’d found the three jackets she’d lavished on me last year that I’d forgotten about – one Jaeger and two Ralph Lauren… labels, I said!

Yes, there is nothing like a daughter… and thankfully, they keep you on your toes, as they can always see room for improvement. I do hope she approves of what I choose to wear with the fuchsia pink leather gloves when winter comes. Maybe I‘d better get her advice – after she‘s finished stacking the three metres of fire-wood sitting in my garage…  there really is nothing like a daughter!

PS. She checked out this story, and said she could add a few more items – what about that lost evening bag you were so thrilled to find under a pile of jumpers? Enough is enough, I said firmly.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

Our neighbours have a banana tree which is weighed down with small sweet bananas, and they don’t eat them. This largesse comes our way, and I use this recipe when we have too many to eat.

Mash a cup of bananas, and melt 150gms of butter. Put both in a dish and add two eggs and a cup of sugar… I often use brown for the taste. Mix them together and then add two cups of self raising flour. Dissolve a teasp of baking soda in 3 tablspns of milk, and stir that in too. Beat lightly, before tipping the mixture into a greased 20cm cake tin, the base lined with baking paper. Bake at 180 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes. It’s cooked when the cake springs back when lightly touched. Lovely with thick lemon icing.

Food for thought

Comparison is the thief of joy. Anonymous

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a bag lady

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I am a bag lady. I cannot resist them. So when I passed a shop with the most beautiful handbag I’d seen for a while, I couldn’t stop myself going in to check the price. It was elegantly flat, not the sort of handbag that I could cram with the wallet that holds all my cards and cash, my photographs that always go with me, and lurking receipts; the other wallet with my cheque books, the small half-empty bottle of Chanel no 5, my spare specs, my lipstick case, my little notebook and diary, my fold-up hairbrush brought back from Holland by a friend, my sparse makeup case, and a pen. It was a soft apricot coloured leather and shrieked class.

It was half price in a sale and was still three or four times as much as I’d normally pay for a nice handbag – if I needed one. And there-in lies the rub. I have a number of handbags which, each time I bought them were intended to be the last handbag I  ever bought, as they were such good quality and so timeless in design that they’d never date, I convinced myself!

At the bottom of the pile is a very good and hardly used classic tan handbag which I definitely thought would, as my husband is prone to saying – see me out. Hardly used, actually, because superseded by an elegant slim-line dark brown leather handbag… then there’s the exquisite twenties black snakeskin pochette which I often use in the evening, fought for at an auction, and the thirties brown snakeskin clutch discovered in an op-shop, perfect for my brown winter clothes.  The Burberry, found for a song in a sale, always sparks up my winter blacks worn with a cream silk scarf as well, and a very nice boxy black satin evening handbag given me by my daughter is also well-used.

And then there’s the very beautiful black handbag in the softest leather with wide plaited handles, giving it a subtle appearance of haute couture… a wedding anniversary gift after my husband had watched me lusting after it.  The large cream leather Dorothy- shaped bag is perfect for summer, and for my landmark 70th birthday I bought the really big red leather handbag which looks so good with black, though I don’t wear it with my red shoes as it looks too dated and matched  if I do that. For travelling – wonderful on planes when I want to disguise just how much hand luggage I have – is the huge black tote bag, which has eased many frantic last minute packs and panics. And last year my daughter brought me back from Istanbul (not Constantinople as Danny Kaye would say) the handbag I always use now. It says it’s Prada, and I don’t dare to insult her or hurt her by asking whether it’s real, or a clever beautiful fake. Either way, it’s stood the test of time and looks hardly used.

So do I really need another handbag? The inner dialogue went on for several days… you don’t need another. You could get rid of all the ones you hardly use. It’s too expensive. But I have my little nest egg saved for these extravagances. In a world of conspicuous consumption, and desperate poverty you should not be buying something you don’t need at huge expense. But it’s half price, and I’ll never have the opportunity to have anything half as beautiful, precious, or valuable ever again. That is the most snobbish and shallow thing to even think. But it would go with all my blacks, and with all my browns, and so many other things. I could wear it to lunch on Friday and it would just make my boring old trousers and top look so much more elegant ….Get over it! This inner battle tormented many waking moments, and even broke in on my sleep as I turned over. Sometimes I would wake up quite clear in my mind that I did Not need another handbag, and then the siren voices began again with all the same persuasions.

The sale lasted for another week, and I could pick up the bag when I went back to the big smoke to deliver my grandson’s 22nd birthday present. By yesterday I still hadn’t made a decision, leaving it to fate and a last minute gut feeling. I drove into town with the present and a birthday card, and since the grandson’s parents were away, I thought I’d spoil him with all his favourite cakes I used to treat him and the others with when they were little. So parking the car outside the delectable cake-shop, I chose a selection of cream dough-nuts, choc slices, iced tarts, chocolate éclairs and the rest.

Swinging out with the big box of goodies in my hands, I came on a traffic warden bending over my little car, which was in a free parking space. “Don’t worry”.  I beamed at him, “I’m just going.” He looked bleakly at me. “I’m not giving you a parking ticket. I’m giving you an infringement notice”. Walking blindly to my fate, I was unfazed. “What’s an infringement notice?” I blithely inquired. He pointed to the notice on the windscreen, which I have to say, I never bother to look at. “Your warrant of fitness is overdue. It’s a $200 fine.” And he walked off.

No words came to my lips. No point in saying but they must have forgotten to remind me at the garage like they always do. Conscious that there was no-one to blame but myself I glared at his back as he carried on peering officiously into the windscreens of other cars. A wave of hate swept through me as I thought of his pinched face, cold grey eyes, and pursed prim mouth. And then I thought of all the negative energy and hostility and anger he must attract all day, and I wondered how it was for him and for his family when he went home every night bringing that miasma of misery with him. My anger towards him died, but I was still sore. I tried to remember not to sweat the small stuff, and also to remember that this was one of the things I couldn’t change, so to let it go…I clung to the words I’d read in a small book on Epictetus which I’d found on a second hand book stall two days before…  which amounted to not fussing about the stuff you have no control over… but.. but  – it didn’t give me as much serenity as I hoped for.

Why couldn’t  ‘they’ give us a week’s warning or something, I thought bitterly to myself. And then I remembered Socrates As he waited in prison to receive the poisoned hemlock for the crime trumped up against him of corrupting the youth of Athens with his ideas, his friends offered to bribe the guards, and help him escape to another city and avoid death. But Socrates refused – saying that if he did so, he would break his social contract with his city, which he had no desire to do, therefore he would abide by their rules. My resentment faded. Yes, I’d flouted the rules of my society by my carelessness or irresponsibility.

Chastened I delivered the birthday goodies, and drove straight home. The handbag seemed irrelevant now. Not only had I squandered half the money needed for it, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Isak Dineson, who had plenty of trials in her life, wrote that all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them. She was right… not just the handbag, but the infringement notice are no longer significant… it’s now emotion recollected in tranquillity, to quote Wordsworth. And this morning I was at the garage at 8am to comply with the rules of my society!

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The roasted almond and lentil loaf has had a few takers, so here’s the recipe, not as simple as most of my cooking… wash and boil until soft half a cup of dried lentils. I’ve used red lentils and puy lentils, and they are both good.  While the lentils are cooking, gently toast in a frying pan without any fat, a cup of ground almonds. When lightly browned, set aside. Heat a table spoon of oil and gently fry a finely chopped onion, a stalk of chopped celery and a grated carrot with all the moisture squeezed out of it, plus a teaspoon of dried thyme, sage and finely chopped rosemary. When soft, remove from the heat and stir in the toasted almonds, cooked lentils, four slices of bread crumbled into breadcrumbs, quarter of a cup of tomato sauce, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and one of balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper.  Mix it all together with an egg and press firmly into a loaf tin lined with well-greased cooking paper long enough to overhang the edges.  Bake in an oven 180 degrees for forty-five minutes.

I actually think it tastes best the next day either cold or lightly heated. Cut it in thick slices and serve with the rich gravy from the last post. This is enough for six, and makes a meal served with new potatoes and green beans or asparagus, which is plentiful here in the Antipodes at the moment.

 

Food for Thought

Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, it is our duty to care for all our fellow men. Those who follow these precepts will achieve happiness and peace of mind.

Translation of Epictetus’ words. Epictetus  AD 55- 135, was an ancient Greek, Stoic philosopher who thought we should live our beliefs. Born a slave, he became a Greek sage. Born in Turkey, taught in Rome, banished to Greece.

 

 

 

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The fun of fashion

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What to wear has occupied many happy  hours and years of my thinking life. So though some research has claimed that little girls and boys are conditioned to be male and female… pink versus blue…  I’m not convinced!

I don’t think any little boy could have felt the bliss that I did at three when I finally got to wear a sun-suit that had been too big for me. I remember the day I was allowed to wear it, I shall never forget the pattern of navy, pink, yellow and blue tiny flowers all over it. It was linen, it had tiny buttons down the front, and was the most beautiful thing I’d ever worn. I remember the glory of running to catch up the big girls next door, skipping through long fine grass that grew beneath the pine trees, and the shafts of sun-light beaming down between the rough trunks. And above all, the rapture of knowing that I was wearing such a wonderful thing.

Not quite the same rapture over my white petticoats trimmed with broderie anglaise, and the smocked pink dress and the blue dress, made of ninon – a fine muslin type fabric with soft little bobbles sprinkled all over it – but I still enjoyed them. A year older, and winter, I revelled in the Fair Isle berets and matching gloves my mother bought me and my sister.

I stood and watched with some disapproval as she preened herself in the two new coats she had just bought, one a black fluffy material with gold buttons, the other a smooth jade green wool with green and gold buttons. She had said she couldn’t resist them. I remember precociously thinking that there would be no more clothes coupons left for us.  I was five, and in war-time we had an allowance of coupons for the year, which once used, meant no new clothes until the following year.

School uniform was a treat then too, with beautiful quality velour hats with big brims and a wide ribbon round it for winter, and a Panama hat the same shape with another big ribbon round it for summer.

When my Victorian grandmother came to care for us after my mother had gone, she dressed me according to her firmly held notions. I went to school one day in an anguish of embarrassment, wearing soft leather full- length gaiters right up my legs with hundreds of tiny leather buttons. We needed a button hook to do them all up.  But I couldn’t get them off for PT (Physical Training), so she abandoned those, thank goodness. She spent hours at her treadle sewing machine making me pink satin, lace- trimmed dresses and the like, and sent me off to church in a new brown tweed coat which was agony every time I sat down. It turned out she had sewed up the scissors into the deep hem.

Worst of all were the bright purple fluffy mittens she got hold of – warm – but hideous. It lacerated my fashion- conscious soul every time I put them on. At my best friend’s seventh birthday party I left them behind at her house, hoping that that would be the end of them. But further humiliation ensued when my grandmother made me go back to get them, and so then every-one knew that these frightful objects were mine.

Bundled off to my new parents at nine and a half, they threw away all the clothes my grandmother had lovingly made me, and took us shopping in London, where we were equipped with little tweed velvet- collared coats and matching berets, pretty dresses, and best of all, check shirts and shorts, just like the girls wore in Enid Blyton’s books. Fine feathers indeed.

But they had to last… that was the last time we enjoyed such largesse. When I grew out of them, there were no replacements, and I had to manage on various hand-me-downs, and odd birthday presents. So when I started earning, the best thing about it was never again having to wear clothes that embarassed me. But though I wanted fine feathers, I had also learned the lesson we all did on reading ‘Little Women.’

The scene in which Meg, also humiliated by her worn clothes, allows her frivolous friends to turn her into a fashion plate for a party, and overhears some older women commenting, what a pity that that pretty modest girl had spoiled her appearance with frills and flounces, and crimped curls, had struck deep. Meg feels overcome with shame for not being true to herself.  So I wanted fine feathers, but not fashion overkill!

Oh, the lovely cut of winter clothes, the fabrics, the wool and tweed, the gabardine and mohair, the lambs-wool and cashmere, the knits and jersey, velvet and corduroy; the colours, rich plum reds and pine greens, the russet tones, and mustards, the navy blues and chocolate browns – breathes there a woman with soul so dead – to paraphrase Sir Walter Scott – whose heart doesn’t leap when confronted with these riches?

And for summer, we had linens and cottons and seersuckers and silk, the muslins and tulle, taffetas and brocades for evening. We’d never heard of denim then, and nylon was something for parachutes and stockings. Fashion for a teenager earning money at last, meant a circular felt skirt, a wide elastic waspie to nip in our waists, over a frilly starched cotton slip and worn with  a Marilyn Monroe sweater and flat pumps. In this get-up, we twirled and swooped, dancing to rock and roll, and skiffle, though we could still waltz and do Scottish dances at formal balls, in long romantic evening dresses accessorised with long white gloves. And then there was the mini!

But times have changed of course. I’ve just read a survey which claims that women’s waists now are seven inches bigger than they were in nineteen-fifty. The average woman’s waist then, they claimed, was twenty- seven- inches, and it’s now thirty-four. I think they’ve got it wrong – my waist was twenty-five then, and I envied the possessors of twenty-four inch waists. The research also says that women are square and waistless now, and that the old hour-glass figure has gone. I had noticed how waists are disappearing, and have wondered how anyone could wear a waspie any more, while circular skirts would not do much for expanded hips these days.

So it seems to me that women are not so much the slaves of fashion, as that fashion is the slave of women’s diet. And now that spartan war-time food, not just in England and Europe but probably in other parts of the world too, is no longer on the menu,  fast food and tampered- with food, and Too much of everything, seem to have re-shaped the female figure. And fashion in the shape of towering platforms and spiked heels seems to have hobbled women quite as successfully as bound feet in China.

So give me beautiful clothes, but not haute couture, fine feathers but not high fashion… and I will probably still be planning what to wear when I’m on my death-bed – maybe I should write a book about clothes – what to wear from the cradle to the grave. And I haven’t even mentioned hats!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

That apple cake! It was scrumptious, but so crumbly that we needed a fork to eat it with. So maybe a bit less apple and a bit more flour would hold it together. And whipped cream lifts it to another level!

Tonight, roast lamb, which rarely crosses this threshold, but it’s a special occasion. So along with all the usual trimmings, I’m making onions in white sauce. Peel and chop several onions, and boil with salt and pepper until cooked. In another saucepan melt two ounces of butter, and add enough flour to make a stiff roux. I pour in about a cup of milk, and then a cup of the onion- flavoured water, and stir briskly. Put it back on the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time until thick. Add nutmeg to taste, salt and pepper and the onion. You might need more milk, though I like the sauce quite thick. I usually add a dollop of cream…

Food for Thought

Beauty is a choir of singers, a chorus of dreamers, a concert of aspirations, an orchestra of goals, a symphony of ambition and a ballet of productions.

Glenda Green  Born 1945. Artist and author of ‘Love without end. Jesus Speaks’

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